Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

I make a resolution to write more every year. However, I'm rarely able to keep my resolution much past the second week of January. Any suggestions on how I can be more successful?

I love the idea of writerly resolutions for the new year. It’s a fresh start and an opportunity to reconsider how your day-to-day choices line up with your values. Still, you’re not alone in losing motivation early in the year. One reason might be that the resolution—important at it may be to you—is vague. Yes, you want to write more, but what does that mean? How will that change the way your day or week unfolds? Without that more specific understanding, you’ll only attend to this resolution when you think of it and when you have some spare time. Both may be rare occurrences. Waiting for them to happen at the same time . . . well, you see where I’m going. Give yourself concrete resolutions in order to set yourself up for success. Do you want to complete your novel this year? Do you want to finally revise all those short stories you’ve written? Do you want to write a thousand words a day? Or perhaps you want to write during your lunch hour three days a week. All of these may mean you’re writing “more,” and they’re giving you a specific goal to write toward.

Even specific resolutions can feel lofty. Consider how you’re going to reach them. If your resolution is to finish your novel, break it down into smaller goals. Those might look like this: 1) finish the first draft, 2) write at least one hour a day after the kids are asleep, 3) ask two trusted readers for feedback after the first draft is completed. Identifying the smaller tasks that work toward the larger resolution will help you focus and make progress.

Make sure your resolutions are achievable. Challenge yourself but be reasonable. You know your schedule, quirks, and habits. If your morning routine is a run and a quick shower before you dash to work with a granola bar in hand, don’t expect to squeeze in an hour of writing before work unless you plan to sacrifice something else. If you have a free afternoon and finally want to commit to writing during that time, don’t expect to write for several hours right away. You may end up overwhelmed and frustrated. Give yourself a chance to feel productive and successful. You might start writing one hour during that afternoon and choose to re-assess every month. By the summer you may find a four-hour stretch is rewarding.

Cultivate a healthy sense of self-forgiveness. Life is full of unexpected events. You might be wrenched away from your commitment because of a series of late nights at the office, a nasty cold that lingers for weeks, or your trip across the country to see your son accept an award. You may even be the source of your own undoing by choosing to window shop, watch television, or take a nap at your designated writing time. If you find yourself off track, just get right back on when you can. Don’t waste time feeling discouraged. That, too, is time you could be writing.

Even with all this preparation, a resolution is a vulnerable thing. Enlist the help of others to protect it. Declare your intentions to family, friends, and fellow writers. Ask them to help you in specific ways. You might set up a schedule to swap work with a writer friend to keep deadlines and share feedback. You might work out a schedule with your spouse so that you have two hours of uninterrupted time on Saturday. Perhaps a sibling or a friend will check in with you periodically for support and progress reports. If you surround yourself with people who encourage you toward your goal, you’re more likely to achieve it.